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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Leeds

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Myths and Legends
Charles II portrait
Charles II: restoration king

© Mary Evans Picture Library
The competing legends of Farnley Wood

Restoration politics

Seditious ambitions, 26 men were hanged, drawn and quartered and family betrayal; the Farnley Wood Plot is a colourful episode in the history of Leeds, and Charles II’s early and turbulent years. However, during the restoration, and for centuries after, your opinion of the plot revealed much about your own political allegiances than the truth of the legend. Histories of the plot have been coloured by civil war divisions and their subsequent reincarnation in political parties. Those with parliamentary leanings dismissed the plot as the work of Royalist entrapment of naïve, dissatisfied country men, a view which was later transmuted into Whig mentality. Whereas those with Royalist sympathies, who were in favour of the restored monarchy, condemned the treasonous plot as a very real threat to the country’s stability, this developed in the Tory line on the episode.

Farnley Wood Beck
Farnely Wood Beck
© Leeds Library and Information Service
But just what did take place on the morning of October 12th 1663? For those in search of drama and action, the reality disappoints. As dawn broke, the group of approximately 30 local men who had gathered the previous evening disbanded and returned to their respective homes without so much as attempting to overtake the wood, let alone Leeds. The group consisted of local farmers and squires, all of whom were parliamentary sympathisers of the Presbyterian faith.

A low turn out, lack of support among surrounding areas and a general lack of appetite for battle seem to have been the reasons for the rebellion’s failure. The men expected to return home without news of their failed rebellion reaching the ears of anyone in authority. However, unbeknownst to them, the royalist authorities had been informed of every detail of the rebellion by Joshua Greathead, joint leader of the plot since its inception.

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